Android phones come with a basic set of apps which can do a variety of jobs. But of course, you can get it to do a whole lot more with the huge selection of apps available, from those that offer a weather forecast to those that can help you organise your life, with games besides.

Our guide takes you step by step through finding and downloading apps from the Google Play Store, as well as looking at other sources for apps that you might not know about.

How do I download apps from the Google Play Store?

  1. Open the Google Play app
  2. Search or browse for an app
  3. Tap Install

It’s very easy to download apps from Google’s Play Store. Almost every Android device (in the West at least) comes with this app already installed, as it’s part of the suite of software that Google includes with Android. Look for the app called Play Store whose icon is a multi-coloured triangle on its side sitting on top of a white background.

Tap the icon and you’ll be taken to the Play Store itself. There will be a few apps featured in the main part of the screen, but you’ll want to check the line of icons along the bottom which separates out the app types into Games, Apps, Movies &… and Books.

How to install apps on Android: Using the Google Play Store

Select the one that should include the app you’re after, then if you know its name tap the text box at the top of the page in which you should see the words Search for apps.  Now you can type in the title and hopefully you’ll see the intended app appear at the top of the list of results. Tapping on it will open the page for that app, then all you need to do is tap the Install button and the app will immediately begin downloading.

Note that not all apps are free, but many are. If you pick one which costs money, you'll be prompted to set up a payment method, but note that you can also use Google Play gift cards: it doesn't have to be a credit or debit card.

How to install apps on Android: Installing apps

If you’re not sure which app you want to download, then you can tap the For you, Top charts or Categories options that appear above the featured apps. These will provide a list of the most popular ones on the store, any of which you can download by tapping its Install button. If you’re new to Android, then our guide to the best Android apps should prove invaluable and save you time trawling through the huge selection on the Play Store.

Is Google Play the only place to get Android apps?

No, but it is one of the safest and most convenient way to download Android apps. There are alternatives available. In some cases, these are necessary, as with the new Huawei devices that come with the company’s own App Gallery due to the dispute with Google and the US government which has banned American companies (such as Google) from working with Huawei, and its sub-brand Honor.

Another instance is Amazon’s Fire tablet range, which runs a customised version of Android. Amazon prefers to keep customers within its digital walls by providing apps via the Amazon Appstore. But, on standard Android devices there is the option to use different stores, with the aforementioned Huawei and Amazon efforts available, alongside Aptoide, F-Droid and many others if you Google ‘alternative android app stores’.

How to install apps on Android: Alternative App Stores

It should be noted though, that while Amazon and - as far as we can tell - the App Gallery - is a trusted store, many of the others can be home to dodgy apps or even malware due to the more open nature of their catalogue. That’s why we’d recommend sticking with the Google Play Store, but if you’re intent on venturing out into the wild, just make sure you install some decent Android antivirus software to limit the potential damage.

Another alternative, just as you do with many Windows apps, is to download them as a .apk file directly from a website, possibly even the app's developer. Again, there is a risk that it could contain malware, which is why antivirus software is a good idea if you plan to do this kind of thing.

To install apps from non-Google sources, you’ll first need to adjust the settings on your device. The precise titles mentioned next may vary a little, depending on your handset, but they should be roughly the same no matter what you’re using. So, open the Settings app and navigate to Apps then tap the three dots in the top right corner.  From the drop-down menu, select Special access. On the next page, scroll down and select Install unknown apps

How to install apps on Android: Specials Access

A number of apps will now appear in a list. These are the various ones through which apps could be installed, so select the ones that you’re most likely to use - Chrome should probably be top of your list - then enable the Allow from this source option. That’s it. You’ll now be able to visit those alternative stores and install the apps on your device. Just make sure that you update them regularly so that the security settings remain current.

Read next: Everything you need to know about setting alarms on Android.